Sunday, February 15, 2009
Can't Resist a List, Part Two: Can I Do It?
The Guardian, Britain's left-leaning newspaper (terrific on-line arts sections, by the way), recently came up with a list of 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read. What makes this list more interesting than some others is that, first, it is divided into categories: Love, Comedy, Family and Self, Crime, State of the Nation, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Travel and War. Second, the selections are annotated, and most of the annotations give one a reason for reading the book. (The ones on Thomas Hardy's books, however, are duds. Nothing but spoilers.) Third, although the list includes many unfamiliar British writers, it also has at least a few books from countries we don't normally hear much from unless we're on the Nobel Prize selection committee.
But -- a thousand books! That's a lot! And, when I copied the list, I counted individual titles of multi-volume works and came up with at least 1070. After all, it doesn't seem fair to give Alan Bennett's An Uncommon Reader, delightful as it is, equal weight with the twelve volumes of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time. (Even though I've read the former, and not the latter.) Then when I counted the books I had read from this list, I came up with a pitiful 205 (and that included Little Women, Ballet Shoes, and several Agatha Christie mysteries, so don't go feeling all inferior here.)
Maybe it's the annotations, maybe it's the variety, but I feel much more inclined to tackle this list than I did the much shorter one from TIME. So, do I have time to read the remaining 865 books?
In the last three years I've averaged 194 books read per year. To read 865 books in 25 years, would take only 34.6 books per year, leaving me plenty of time to read mysteries, non-fiction, poetry, the Bible and Shakespeare. Moreover, there are quite a few books on the list I was intending to read anyway, including Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. In fact, right now I'm reading his The Colour of Magic as well as E.C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case -- both on the list. Also, because Onkel Hankie Pants was an English major, and because I've often been guilty of buying books and then not reading them, we actually already own about 30 of the books on the list that I haven't read. So I guess I'm going to give it a try. I reserve the right to give up on a book if, somewhere between 50 and 100 pages in, I just can't stand it. After all, as my grandmother used to say, "Life is too short." I might substitute something from one of the more specialized lists I found, which I'll report on another time.
I'm making a "shelf" on Goodreads for "Guardian-1000-Novels" and will track and review my reading there. As time permits, I'll also try to add the 205 books I've read in the past, but don't expect any very trenchant comments on books I read 40 years ago! I may also post some updates on the blog now and again.
Now back to Trent's Last Case, which I'm reading for the DorothyL Book Discussion Group (we read and discuss "classic," pre-1970 mystery novels) and which is proving very enjoyable.